The 1983 film, The Healing, tells the story of Dr. John Lucas (played by Brian Jones).
Dr. Lucas has a bright future ahead of him. He’s a successful and popular doctor in Des Moines. He’s making a good deal of money. He’s socially well-connected. He enjoys playing golf every weekend. Unfortunately, he also tends to neglect his wife and son. His wife continually reminds Dr. Lucas that he was originally planning on becoming a doctor so that he could honor God. But now Lucas has gotten materialistic and callous. Lucas laughs off her concerns until, one day, Lucas is interrupted at the country club by a phone call informing him that his wife and son have both been killed in a car accident.
Sinking into despair, Dr. Lucas starts to drink. Soon, he’s such an alcoholic that he has lost his job and his place in society. With the exception of his fellow alcoholics, no one wants anything to do with Lucas. Lucas is prepared to drink the rest of his life away but then, he sees an elderly homeless man having a medical emergency. His natural instincts kick in and Dr. Lucas saves the man’s life and takes him down to the local shelter. At the shelter, Lucas agrees to act as a doctor on the condition that no one push any religious stuff on him. Following another tragedy, Lucas regains his faith. However, his new-found idealism is put to the test when a junkie shows up at the clinic, carrying a switchblade and demanding a fix….
The Healing is another low-budget faith-based film from director Russell Doughten, Jr. Doughten, who started out his film career working on 1958’s The Blob, directed several independent Christian films towards the end of his career. This month, we’ve previously taken a look at Nite Song, Face in the Mirror, and Brother Enemy. Like those films, The Healing was filmed on the streets of Des Moines, Iowa. If nothing else, Doughten’s films served as a reminder that “urban” problems were not just limited to cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Instead, homelessness and crime were problems that afflicted every city, even the seemingly quite ones sitting in the middle of the country. Unfortunately, The Healing often portrays the homeless as being plot devices as opposed to actual human beings. In particular, one older gentleman’s only role in the film is to provide Lucas with some advice before promptly dying.
The Healing is achingly sincere in its desire to try to make the world a better, there’s no denying that. Unfortunately, the film’s execution doesn’t always match its high ideals. Brian Jones does a good of turning Dr. Lucas into a sympathetic character but the rest of the cast seems to the struggle with their underwritten characters. The scenes featuring Dr. Lucas and the junkie also feel a bit rushed, as if the film itself was in a hurry to wrap things up. As such, the conclusion of the junkie storyline never feels authentic and since the end of that storyline is also the end of the film, it casts a pall over the entire film.
Personally, as a history nerd, I’m glad that Doughten captured what Des Moines looked like in the early 80s. If I ever find myself in Des Moines, I’ll compare the modern city to the 1983 version. The film has its strengths but ultimately, it’s a bit too uneven to really work.